by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz
In a few months, all being well, we will be preparing to launch the book Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures (HE4Good). This open access book, a collection of work by over 70 authors in 18 countries, offers ways of thinking, conceptualising and creating possibilities for (re)making higher education, focusing on futures that foreground inclusion, equity, social justice, care and sustainability.
In this liminal space —after completing the bulk of the writing and editing, and before making final changes to the manuscript— we are reflecting on the process of creating the book.
Working from an understanding that “the large is a reflection of the small” (brown, 2017), we agreed from the start that each of our decisions about the book’s creation would themselves need to reflect the values of inclusion, equity, social justice, care and sustainability. So, how did this belief translate into practice?
This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we’ll reflect on the process of making the book – in other words, what we did (or tried to do) and why. In this first post we outline how the idea for the book arose and describe our process principles.
Seeds of an idea
In June 2021, when first discussing the ideas for what became HE4Good, we each were working as full-time academics (Catherine in Ireland, Laura in South Africa). Both committed to open education and social justice, we have been colleagues and friends for several years. Mid-2021 saw us navigating the pandemic in our own lives and HE sectors, facilitating teaching and learning alongside our colleagues, supporting teachers and students, and advocating for care and equity as HE practices and systems changed dramatically. We witnessed the escalating use of opaque digital infrastructures and algorithmic decision systems. This left so many of us exhausted and despairing – but never without hope (Czerniewicz et al., 2020). Yet we felt, as Rosie Braidotti (2020) powerfully describes, that we could “extract ourselves from this sad state of affairs, work through the multiple layers of our exhaustion, and co-construct different platforms of becoming”. The book Higher Education for Good was thus conceived as a means to counter despair, resist dominant narratives, and imagine and bring into being better futures for higher education. As we explained in our original call for chapters (December 2021):
HE for Good invites elaboration of those glimmers of alternative futures offered during the pandemic, those which foreground inclusion, equity, social justice, care and sustainability … [The book] will explore possibilities and critique with a purpose. It will offer ideas about the role of education in addressing “wicked” problems which need multiple solutions, resolutions, experiments, imaginaries. As in wider work towards social and climate justice, this book aims to answer the question: “What can be done”? It aims to foster hope and courage.
Our intention was not to produce one definitive stance in this book, but rather to work in coalition with other HE scholars and practitioners, globally, to create a blend of diverse choral voices addressing these key questions. Mindful of the dangers of the single story (Adichie, 2009) and aware that the dominant discourses from the Global North are constructed as both homogenous and universal, we were clear in our commitment to heterogeneity and pluriversalism.
From the moment that the call for chapters was shared, we worked to communicate with and invite participation from scholars (authors and reviewers) from many countries, with the aim of having representation from both the Global North and the Global South. Within regions and countries, we also hoped to break down hierarchies. Even for us, who have reasonably wide networks, this was not always straightforward, as we elaborate in a subsequent blog post.
We also aimed for a mixture of established and emergent voices in the book. In addition to academics (educators and researchers) at all levels, we sought submissions from professionals (learning technologists, educational developers, etc.) as well as students, those in academic leadership positions, and educators working outside higher education but with valuable perspectives on it.
Inclusion also extended to the selection of authors for the book’s forewords and afterwords (there are two of each). We wanted well known and well respected scholars, both internationally and regionally, noting that the latter may not have the global exposure they deserve. And we considered it essential to end the book with a young scholar looking to the/their future. Finding the right person involved reaching out to many people, because of course, scholars of the future are not yet well known.
We are so grateful that each of the people we asked —outstanding scholars from Australia, Chile, India and South Africa— all said yes.
An early decision in designing the book was that the modes of expression would be varied, i.e. chapter authors would not be limited to the constraints of traditional academic formats. In order to open up possibilities for the future, we invited authors to be creative and, thankfully, many authors accepted this challenge. In addition to chapters written in conventional forms, the book includes personal reflections, dialogues, poetry, an audio podcast, and a graphic story. We decided also at the outset that the book should include artwork, acknowledging the role of artists in “seeding resistance and providing the tools for us to imagine otherwise” (Davis et al., 2022, p. 8). In our search for existing openly licensed artwork, as well as extending invitations to artists to contribute new artwork, we prioritised artists from the Global South and women artists.
We acknowledge and thank the authors of two recent publications that inspired us to imagine other-wise in crafting the form of Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, authors of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (2020) and Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie, authors of Abolition. Feminism. Now. (2022).
Ethos of care
HE4Good authors were experiencing, and often writing explicitly about, overload and exhaustion. As editors we took this seriously, especially when individuals faced difficulties and deadlines were delayed. In addition to general communications with authors, we tried to keep in touch personally with individual authors too. When authors of a few chapters had to drop out of the project, we did not, and could not, take it personally. We decided from the start that within a project schedule with tight deadlines, we would do all we could to prioritise care.
This flexible approach applied to one another too. We kept ourselves to ambitious deadlines throughout, but during the project each of us got Covid and each had unexpected personal commitments. We alternated the workload but did not keep a tally. That kind of flexibility is based on mutual respect and trust.
Seeding and contributing to a community
What began as an idea shared by two people quickly grew to a project involving dozens of scholars after chapter proposals were accepted, authors began writing, and reviewers began engaging with authors’ work. Our intention and hope for the book to be more than a collection of chapters on a shared topic, but also a space to seed conversations and cross-fertilise ideas, soon became a reality. In a later blog we’ll describe in detail how this worked in practice. Our point here is that we actively opened the space of what the book could be to all authors and reviewers, inviting ideas for how individuals could meet, and encouraging contributors to think differently and to share their work with one another. In that sense, it is not simply a book, a product, but also a process and a contribution to a growing resistance movement in HE, where alternatives are being forged across the world.
The two of us have talked at length about how to write this post, and the posts to come. We believe it is important to share our editorial process because so much of what appears in the book is the result of that collective ethos of care. It certainly lifted us when things were difficult. And yet, it is not for us to say something glib about a particular practice like “this is essential” when we know that academic and professional HE working conditions are so deeply challenging and time-constrained. We can say that we aimed to enact the principles of heterogeneity, care and community through our editorial approach, mindful that it would be imperfect yet committed to trying hard. At the same time, we have to admit that this approach is time consuming, requires continual attention, and is not always easy.
In the next blog post, we will talk about how we set about seeding a community of authors and reviewers.
Braidotti, R. (2020). “We” are in this together, but we are not one and the same. Bioethical Inquiry 17, 465–469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-10017-8
brown, a. m. (2017). Emergent Strategy. AK Press. https://www.akpress.org/emergentstrategy.html
Czerniewicz, L., Agherdien, N., Badenhorst, J., et al. (2020). A wake-up call: Equity, inequality and Covid-19 emergency remote teaching and learning. Postdigital Science Education, 2, 946–967. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00187-4
Davis. A. Y., Dent, G., Meiners, E. R., & Richie, B. E. (2022). Abolition. Feminism. Now. Hamish Hamilton.
Johnson, A. E., & Wilkinson, K. K. (2020). All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. One World.
Image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash